Doctors of the Church

The Doctors of the Church

The Doctors of the Church are great saints known for their defense and explanation of the truths of the
Catholic Faith. ‘Doctor of the Church’ is a very special title accorded by the Church to certain saints. This title indicates that the writings and preachings of such a person are useful to Christians “in any age of the Church.” Such men and women are also particularly known for the depth of understanding and the orthodoxy of their theological teachings. While the writings of the Doctors are often considered inspired by the Holy Spirit; this does not mean they are infallible, but it does mean that they contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching in at least one area.

The original four Doctors of the Church of the Western or Latin Rite are St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, and St. Jerome. The original four Doctors of the Eastern Rite are St. Athanasius, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Chrysotom. These eight Doctors of the Church were named by acclamation or common acknowledgment. Through the years, other saints have been named Doctors of the Church by various popes starting with the addition of St. Thomas Aquinas to the list by Pope Saint Pius V in 1568 when he promulgated the Tridentine Latin Mass.

In the 20 th century, three female saints, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux were added to the list. A fourth, St. Hildegard of Bingen, was added by Pope Benedict XVI on October 7, 2012 when he also added St. John of Avila to the list. Today there are 35 officially recognized Doctors of the Church.

Pope Francis is adding St. Gregory of Narek to the list of Doctors of the Church. All the news outlets are saying that Pope Francis has already declared him “Doctor of the Church,” but he is not yet on the Universal Calendar, although St. Gregory is on the calendar of the Armenian Catholic Church. People can only actually get the title when they are actually on Rome’s Universal Calendar because it’s a liturgical designation for that calendar, and not an arbitrary title.

What seems to actually have happened is that the Plenary Session for the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints put forward the proposal that he be named Doctor of the Church, and Pope Francis confirmed it. That would mean that the official declaration is yet to come. Gregory of Narek will make the 36th Doctor of the Church. ‘Doctor of the Church’ is a special, officially given liturgical title give in Rome’s Universal Calendar. It indicates

1. saints in the universal calendar who
2. were doctors (i.e. theological teachers) and who
3. have left theological writings that
4. are of extraordinary quality and considerable value
for the whole community of the faithful.
Because of (2), it is traditional not to consider martyrs for the title, despite a number of notable theologians in that category who fit all of the other criteria, because ‘martyr’ is a higher liturgical title than ‘doctor.’ Martyrs would never be liturgically given a Mass for doctors, only for martyrs, and thus the title would be pointless. Likewise (3) is pretty restrictive. There have been some excellent theologians who don’t qualify because we know of their work only indirectly and not from any writings they left. (St. Macrina comes to mind.) And, of course, there are extraordinarily important theologians who aren’t saints in any calendar. The following is a list of the Doctors of the Church by the year of their death with the year in parentheses when they were officially recognized as Doctor of the Church: 368 Hilary of Poitiers (1851)
373 Athanasius
373 Ephrem the Syrian (1920)
379 Basil of Caesarea
387 Cyril of Jerusalem (1883)
390 Gregory Nazianzen
397 Ambrose of Milan
407 John Chrysostom
420 Jerome
430 Augustine
444 Cyril of Alexandria (1883)
450 Peter Chrysologus (1729)
461 Leo the Great (1754)
604 Gregory the Great
636 Isidore of Seville (1722)
735 Bede the Venerable (1899)
749 John Damascene (1883)
1003 Gregory of Narek (2015)
1072 Peter Damian (1828)
1109 Anselm (1720)
1153 Bernard of Clairvaux (1830)
1179 Hildegard von Bingen (2012)
1231 Anthony of Padua (1946)
1274 Thomas Aquinas (1568)
1274 Bonaventure (1588)
1280 Albert the Great (1931)
1379 Catherine of Siena (1970)
1569 John of Avila (2012)
1582 Teresa of Avila (1970)
1591 John of the Cross (1926)
1597 Peter Canisius (1925)
1619 Lawrence of Brindisi (1959)
1621 Robert Bellarmine (1931)
1622 Francis de Sales (1877)
1787 Alphonsus Liguori (1871)
1897 Therese of Lisieux (1997)